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Why I Choose Environmental Science and Sustainability Major

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At the age of twelve, I wasn’t much of an ornithologist, but even I could tell that there was something wrong with the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. The park itself was beautiful, with artistically carved bushes, an overflowing lake, and rolling grasses as far as the eye could see. The question that arose, though, was where were the birds?

Maybe these magnificent creatures turned up their noses at the artificial beautification of their natural home. Maybe they just craved the city life. Either way, their quest for something better should have led them to the Delhi ridge, just 10 miles away, renowned for its surprisingly thick thorn forest — an ideal place for birds to nest. Why, then, were there no birds here either? Just last year, 4000 km away, the mighty Beirut River transformed itself into a ‘river of blood.’ At the same time, Jaws sprang to life with the sighting of a bloody shark in a bustling New York subway. Farther away, the Galápagos Islands mourned the loss of ‘lonesome George,’ a symbol of the need for conservation and the last tortoise of his kind. What in the world is happening? From the exotic species of Madagascar to the birds of Delhi, animals are changing their migration patterns, altering their eating habits, or — far worse — going extinct. Freak storms and typhoons are leading to some of the largest natural disasters chronicled in history. Are these events connected, in some sort of bizarre, roundabout way? Could these be the Earth’s strategy for reclaiming her property?

A curiously profound phrase in my geography textbook — “The world is developing economically, but regressing environmentally” — establishes such a connection. With lofty developmental projects acting as triggers, Mother Earth is emitting mighty sneezes, attempting to expel the harm we have caused. When you realize that entire species have been wiped off the face of the Earth in your own lifetime, you begin to wonder: who is to say that the next species won’t be us? Pushed around like rag dolls by the sheer force of Nature’s anger, we cannot keep fighting her at every turn or forcing her to do as we wish: our endeavors to ‘better human lifestyles’ must incorporate a more adaptive and accepting approach to development.

As a resident of a country where ‘environment’ and ‘economics’ have not yet learned to coexist peacefully, where misguided food security policies have led to the chemical poisoning of the soils of Punjab, where cows eating plastic bags is a part of ‘urban life,’ I was ecstatic to find a major that so seamlessly blends the human and the natural. Take the idea of ‘sulfur spraying’ the Earth (one of my absolute favorite ideas, even if exists only in theory). The thought behind this practice is that sulfur would considerably reduce the temperature of the Earth, in turn reducing the effect of global warming. While a brilliantly weird idea in itself, its economic non-viability prevents sulfur spraying from being implemented. Yet quite contrary to the act-now, care-later individualism that pop culture often preaches, each must live for the other to survive. Economic growth and environmental conservation have to become synonymous, and fast. While I am not Malthusian in my pessimism, with seven billion people inhabiting a planet already teeming with other forms of life, there has to be a tipping point — a point that, for the lost birds of Delhi, for the potential victims of typhoons and earthquakes and floods, for the already dangerously overextended human race, we need to find a way to prevent. With its emphasis on conscientious environmentalism and effective resource management, the environmental science and sustainability major that I will pursue is the beginning of that answer.

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